Formed in Leighton Buzzard in 1978, the band were originally known as Art Nouveau, a four-piece avant-garde group, with Nick Beggs on bass guitar, Steve Askew on lead guitar, Stuart Croxford Neale on keyboards, and Jeremy “Jez” Strode on drums. Art Nouveau released a track called “The Fear Machine”. The single sold a few hundred copies, and was played on the John Peel show, but the band were unable to get a record deal.
In 1982, they advertised for a new lead singer, ultimately auditioning and choosing Christopher Hamill, who then went under the stage name Limahl (an anagram of his surname). The name of the group was then changed to Kajagoogoo, coined by phonetically writing out a baby’s first sounds, which gave them ‘GagaGooGoo’ – and with a minor alteration, it became ‘Kajagoogoo’.
The band signed with EMI Records in July 1982 after Limahl, while working as a waiter at London’s Embassy Club, had met Nick Rhodes of the group Duran Duran. Nick Rhodes proceeded to co-produce the band’s first single, “Too Shy” with Duran Duran’s EMI producer Colin Thurston. The single was released on 10 January 1983 and went on to top the UK Singles Chart (before any of Duran Duran’s singles had done so, Rhodes lightheartedly noted).
Follow-up singles “Ooh to Be Aah” and “Hang on Now” also both reached the UK Top 20, and the group’s debut album White Feathers reached No. 5 in the UK Albums Chart. After being the support act for the Birmingham band Fashion in late 1982, Kajagoogoo embarked on their own headlining White Feathers tour in Spring 1983 (with the show of 31 May at the London Hammersmith Odeon being filmed and released on home video).
As success came, tensions began to rise in the band, which eventually culminated in Limahl being fired by the other band members in mid-1983 and Nick Beggs then taking over as lead singer. Limahl accused the others of being envious of him and said “I’ve been betrayed!” and “I was sacked for making them a success.” However, the other band members went on record as saying that Limahl was an egomaniac and had become increasingly difficult to work with.
Soon after Limahl’s departure, Beggs commented that, “It was a business decision and not one we took lightly. He wanted the band to go in a different direction to the rest of us. Eventually, we realised we were on a different planet to Limahl.” Beggs also stated that the band harboured no ill-will towards Limahl, and blamed the press for sensationalising the matter. Guitarist Steve Askew commented “At first … we did everything possible to make Limahl feel like part of the furniture but, you know, his lifestyle is so different from ours. We’re very normal people whereas Limahl likes the bright lights.”
The first single by the new four-piece Kaja(googoo), “Big Apple”, was released in September 1983 and reached the UK Top Ten. Their next single, “The Lion’s Mouth”, was released in February 1984 and made the UK Top 30, but after that public interest waned and their next single “Turn Your Back on Me” failed to make the Top 40. The subsequent new album, Islands, was also a commercial disappointment, peaking at No. 35 in the UK.
In the US, the band renamed themselves as Kaja, and a different edition of the Islands album was released there as Extra Play, peaking at No. 185 on the Billboard charts.
However, the single “Turn Your Back on Me” did well on the US Dance Charts peaking at No. 2 for two weeks. Limahl, meanwhile, went on to equally brief success as a solo artist.
Strode then left the band and, in an attempt to gain some credibility and to lose their bubblegum image, the remaining three members relaunched as Kaja in the UK in 1985. Following the name change, the band released the single “Shouldn’t Do That” (UK No. 63) in August 1985. The song was featured on their third album, Crazy People’s Right to Speak, but this too was unsuccessful.
In December 1985, the band split up.